All I could do was nod, and then I sat down on the bench, holding myself upright by gripping the edge of my seat.
Taylor sat next to me. He looked upon me with more love and understanding than I’d ever felt. All the while, I let the peace of closure set in. I took a breath and let six years of pain, anger, and shame leave my body as I exhaled.
“Falyn?” he said, his voice thick with worry.
A single tear trickled down my cheek as I looked over at him with a small smile. “She’s happy,” I said simply. “And I’m happy. I’m not sure what I expected, but this is so much more. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
He brought my hand to his lips. “The look on your face right now? That’s all I need.”
I threw my arms around him, and he tightly squeezed me.
“Trent? No. Today was for you and Olive to make a memory, and then let the rest go.”
I released him and then leaned against his shoulder. “I like that.”
“I plan to do a lot of things that you’ll like. But first, I’m going to sit here with you for as long as you need. Don’t feel rushed.”
I sighed and hugged his arm, memorizing the playground and the small wooded area about fifty yards behind it. The birds were singing as a slight breeze blew the fallen leaves around on the ground.
“Ten minutes ago, watching you and her … I wish I could have frozen that moment, so we could live in it forever.”
“We can. We can live here in Olive’s memory. Maybe every time she visits this park, she’ll remember our time together.”
I let my temple relax against his shoulder. “I don’t feel rushed. My heart doesn’t have room for anything else but you, her, and happiness.”
Taylor jumped out of bed just before the sun came up, fumbling around my bedroom and cursing in the dark while trying to find his clothes. Rolling onto my side, I leaned up on my elbow, propping my head with my hand, as I tried to suppress a laugh.
“It’s not funny, baby,” he said, hopping as he pulled on his jeans. “I’m going to hit Denver traffic if I don’t leave in two minutes, and that will make me late for work!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t surprise me the night before your shift then?”
He leaped into the bed, and I squealed.
He planted a peck on my lips. “Don’t even pretend you weren’t fucking ecstatic.”
“I was.” I leaned up to kiss him again. “Thanks again for dinner … and the movie … and everything after that.”
With hesitation and regret, he pushed off the bed and away from me to finish getting dressed. He pulled on his boots and then grabbed his phone and his keys. “Call me when you wake up.”
His frown was barely highlighted from the streetlight outside my bedroom window. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Go,” I said, glancing outside. “It’s snowing. Be careful.”
He made a face. “I will kick that snow’s ass.” He bent down to kiss me once more, but it ended up being three more. He shook his head. “Fuck! I’m gonna miss you. I’m sick of missing you.”
“Go to work,” I said, touching his cheek.
“I’m going. Call me later!” He hurried out the door, his heavy boots knocking against every step on his way down.
I lay on my back, blowing out a frustrated sigh. I was sick of missing him, too, but we had just returned from Christmas in Eakins and celebrated the New Year and Taylor’s and Tyler’s birthdays together at their fire station in Estes Park. It was only seven weeks before Travis and Abby’s vow renewal in St. Thomas, and then Taylor would be back in Colorado Springs. I hoped. It wasn’t that I wished for wildfires, but that was the only thing that would bring Taylor to town.
I relaxed in bed and played on my phone for half an hour and then decided to take a shower, dress for work, and head downstairs. Pete was pulling out ingredients for prep, and I sat on the far counter, watching him work.
“He spent the night again. I think … I think I love him—like, really love him,” I said, my eyes widening for emphasis. “I thought I loved him before, but I think that was just the falling part. Every week that passes, I think, Yep. I love him way more. Maybe I didn’t love him before now? Maybe this is love.”
“Do you have a date for Valentine’s Day?”
He frowned and shook his head.
He winked at me and continued working.
“Good morning!” Chuck said, pushing through the swinging doors. “I haven’t seen you down here this early in a while, Falyn.”
I shrugged. “Couldn’t go back to sleep after Taylor left.”
Phaedra pulled the small leather pack she used as a purse off one shoulder and shoved it into a bottom cabinet. She brushed her wiry low ponytail off her shoulder. “How was dinner?”
I hopped off the counter. “Amazing, as usual.”
“Are you going to up and leave us for Estes Park?”
Chuck tied his apron strings behind his back. “He could apply at one of the stations here. If they have a spot open, they’d hire him.”
“They don’t,” I said. “He put a call in a couple of weeks ago.”
“Well, he should apply anyway,” Phaedra said with her gravelly voice.
“He might? He might be the one then, huh?” Chuck asked.
Three pairs of eyes targeted me.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s too early in the morning and too early in the relationship to be talking about that nonsense.” I picked up a tray and pushed through the double doors. I loaded it with salt and pepper shakers and then brought it back to unscrew the tops.
Phaedra started several pots of coffee, powered on the register, and counted the drawer. She watched me return the full shakers to the tables. Hector arrived as the sun chased the shadows from Tejon Street, and he and Chuck were cracking jokes in the back, being so silly that even Pete was laughing out loud. By the time Kirby arrived, I had everything ready. Every employee at The Bucksaw Café was officially in a good mood.
The morning sun reflected off the white snow piled up on each side of the sidewalk, shining uncomfortably bright even through the transparent solar shades Phaedra had installed specifically to cut down on the glare. In spite of the intense light pouring in, a peaceful feeling seemed to have settled over everyone in the building—or maybe it had always been there, and I was finally free enough to feel it.
“I like it when Taylor stays over,” Kirby said, tying on her apron. “He makes my life a lot easier.”
“Stressed. He took too many hours this semester, and he’s still driving to Boulder, working for the sorority house, which—I have to admit—is a good job for him. His boss works with Gunnar’s school schedule, and the girls treat him like a little brother—or so he says.”